The first section of Murray Louis’s new dance, Millennium Loop, looks like a tribute to his late partner, Alwin Nikolais. Dancers sheathed in translucent unitards manipulate modular segments of a metallic fence before a polka-dotted scrim. They lunge and strut like twitching automatons, a hive of throbbing workers in a futuristic assembly line. Scott Killian’s score (a collaboration with Carol and Lawrence Lipnik) provides a Kraftwerk thrum. When their industry reaches a frenzied acme, the devolved tribe lurks and crawls through a sacrificial rite.
If the piece ended there, it would seem that Louis was limning a cautionary tale for our fractured society as it limps into the 21st century. But it takes a weird, unexpected turn. A ghostly player piano tinkles in the darkness, and the scrim erupts with roses and 19th-century cherubs. Fin de siècle ladies in pastel pinafores enter, partnered by gents in vests. This final act serves as an elaborate setup for a rather flaccid visual joke, but takes Louis’s oracular warning to a hopeful place.
This style of dance making is an anachronism now, and looks timid to the postmodern eye. Here is a world where boys always partner girls, where pirouettes always follow a fourth-position port de bras preparation. Symmetry and unison are used as they were in the ballets of the ’50s, ignoring the antitheatrical revolution of the Judson group. On the all-Louis program (other bills include Nikolais dances), Bach Suite (1956) and Figura (1979) teeter between jazz and “serious” modern idioms. Even when the choreography is abstract, the dancers’ cheerful affect gooses the work toward narrative. Rather than evoking a specific place or time, these pieces speak more of themselves and their creator’s optimistic vision. When he busies the stage, the work beguiles. But his simplicity thrusts imprecision into an unfortunate spotlight.
Millennium Loop is the work of an assured choreographer who has made peace with his thematic and compositional concerns. While Nikolais was a proponent of Oskar Schlemmer’s “space-bewitched creature,” Louis allows his dancers to show their feelings and their thoughts. Employing both artists’ qualities, this premiere condenses the two styles into a fitting showcase for a combined company.